Contemporary Israel: Domestic Politics, Foreign Policy, and Security Challenges, edited by Robert O. Freedman. Boulder: Westview Press, 2009. 382 pp. $40.00.
Writing about contemporary Israel is a difficult matter. It seems that before a paper or a book about the topic goes to print yet another meaningful event occurs and makes previous analyses quickly outdated. The book Contemporary Israel: Domestic Politics, Foreign Policy, and Security Challenges suffers from a similar fate. Not long after the book was published, two major events already impinged upon many of the topics it covers.
The first event is Olmert's forced resignation from the Prime Minister's office. This resignation, which was followed by a failed attempt by the new Kadima leader and Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, to form a new coalition, led to yet another early general election. Second, at the end of December 2008, after a barrage of rockets on cities in Southern Israel, the Israeli government ordered a massive military operation against the Hamas movement in the Gaza strip. The obvious inability to include these two events in a book on contemporary Israel, even though its publication year is dated 2009, illustrate how difficult it is to write about a country and a political system that are in constant, even hyper, flux.
This book is a collection of assays on Israel divided into three general topics: domestic politics, foreign policy, and security challenges. The underlying theme and hypothesis of this edited book is that "the assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin . . . was in many ways a turning point" (p. 12). This event, according to Robert O. Freedman, the editor, entered Israeli politics into a domestic turmoil, led to the rise of the Supreme Court, to privatization of the Israeli economy, and to the slowing of the peace process between Israel and Syria, and Israel and the Palestinians.
The actual papers in the book, however, do not support this hypothesis. In fact, most contributors pay only a lip service to this idea and others ignore it altogether. Indeed, the tragic assassination of Rabin did not lead to the outcomes that Freedman mentions in the introduction, and this becomes evidently clear from the book chapters themselves. Paradoxically, the book as a whole shows that most of Israel's perennial problems persisted after the initial shock of Rabin's murder, and most of the turbulences that followed cannot be attributed to this event. The book lacks a real shared theme and none of the chapters refers to another chapter in the volume, even though some chapters overlap in their subject matter.
The first seven chapters of the book are aimed to provide overviews of domestic issues in Israel. This task is achieved with mixed results. Ilan Peleg's chapter about the Istaeli right is a concise illustration and overview of the Likud's dilemmas between ideology and pragmatism. On the other hand, Mark Rosenblum's chapter on the Zionist Left after Rabin includes many side issues about Middle Eastern politics, talks about PM Shamir more than PM Rabin through a discussion about the U.S. -Israel loan-guarantee episode of the early 1990s, and advances an odd argument that the rise of Rabin and the Israeli Left more generally is owing primarily to U.S. pressure. Rosenblum's chapter does not provide a good analysis or overview of the decline of the Zionist Left since Rabin because it focuses too much on international factors and hardly on internal political psychological factors.
The chapter by Shmuel Sandler and Aaron Kampinsky about Israel's religious parties explains Arend Lijphart's consociational model and then attempts to cover three religious parties, all in fifteen pages. The outcome is quite unsatisfactory and seems to assume the reader has prior knowledge about the subject. …